I went to my first March last Saturday. It wasn’t the one in Washington but there was a local one that I decided I wanted to go to at the last minute. I didn’t have a sign so I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for me to go but I asked about it on Facebook and was assured that marchers without signs were welcome.
The crowd was large and parking was hard to find. People of all ages were there from babies to senior citizens. The bottom of one kid’s sign said “Babies against guns”. The top said “My right to live is above all rights.” His brother’s sign said “NRA go away.”
Other signs carried by children said “I can’t have peanut butter in school but you can have guns?”, “Arms are for hugging”, “School is to get an education not murdered”, “My life is more important than your gun” and “No guns, for safe schools.”
Adolescents and young adults held signs that said Protect kids, not guns, One life is worth more than all the guns on earth” “Students call BS”, and “18th century laws can’t regulate 21st century weapons.”
I took a picture of a “No more school shootings” sign perched atop an empty stroller. A woman commented that it was a good picture and I asked if I could take a picture of her sign, which read “I’m a ballet teacher. Should I carry a gun too?” with a picture of little girls in tu- tus next to a picture of a pink gun. Other signs that commented on the ridiculousness of arming teachers included “Bullets are not school supplies” and “Arm teachers with pencils not guns.”
A middle aged woman held up a sign with a picture of Maria from The Sound of Music that said”The Schools are alive with the sound of bullets.” A woman standing on the remnants of a dirty snow bank held a bright red sign that said “SOS save our schools from gun violence.” A man held up a sign that said “Taught not Shot.” A woman standing next to him held up a sign that said “Finally a pro-life rally I can attend.” Then there was the woman whose sign had a list of things that were regulated more than guns: Alcohol, Sudafed, lawn darts, Roquefort cheese, Kindereggs, cars, fireworks and her uterus.
Older adults held up signs that said “Guns kill. Period”, “We are the majority”, “Choose life. Tighten gun laws” and “Resist, insist, persist, vote.”
There were signs calling out the NRA. One sign had NRA standing for national recall of arms. Another sign had it standing for no responsibility for arms (or children.) There was a sign that said Ditch NRA or ditch office, a sign that said NRA, let go of my country and a sign that said “The NRA can kiss my ass. Your blood money ends now. ” The most darkly funny sign said “Who’s afraid of the NRA? with the NRA as the big bad wolf and Donald Trump, Mitch Mcconnell and Paul Ryan as the three little pigs.
There were several signs pointing out that what we need is action and change, not thoughts and prayers. There were signs that stressed the importance of voting. A woman wearing a shirt with the word Change beneath Obama’s picture was carrying a sign that said “I demand gun control and I vote!” I saw a sign laying on a table that said “We’re with the teens. Get out and vote!” There was a sign that simply said “Vote, vote, vote” over and over again.
Some signs kept their messages simple but powerful. There was a sign that said Disarm Hate. There were signs that consisted of one word : Enough.
Another one-word sign simply said Love. And in the midst of all the anger and indignation at that rally there was a lot of love. People hugged, held hands, draped their arms around each other, carried one another on their backs.
There were signs that listed the names of the Parkland victims and signs that displayed the pictures of the Parkland survivors who are acting as advocates for gun control. While I was participating in a local march, those survivors were participating in the national march in Washington D.C. where they gave moving and eloquent speeches. They were mostly lauded for their bravery but some rabid defenders of the second amendment had a real problem with them exercising their first amendment rights. I never would have thought anyone would have a problem with survivors of a horrific tragedy taking action to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, much less target those survivors in a cruel manner but these are interesting times we’re living in.
In addition to the signs, there were also powerful speakers at this rally. One young man described his terrifying experience as a student in a school that had an active shooter. He sat huddled under a desk wondering if he was going to die. He pointed out that the shooter was not a bullied social outcast as the media stereotype would have you believe. Another young man discussed an aspect of gun violence that doesn’t get as much media attention: suicide. He described a friend of his who died of suicide by gun. He argued that although it’s commonly believed that people who commit suicide want to die, the truth is most of them don’t want to die. It is an impulsive act of desperation, as evidenced by the fact that most suicide attempt survivors do not try again. I’ve often felt depressed and thought about wanting to die but I’ve never attempted suicide or formulated a plan. I wonder if things would have been different had I had access to a gun.
When the talk became about the politicians who bow to the NRA, the crowd chanted “Vote them out! Vote them out!” Acknowledging that he felt awkward taking the stage amidst those cries, a New Jersey state representative explained that although he owns a gun, he supports gun control laws and will not bow to the NRA. I have no interest in owning or using a gun myself but I appreciate the voice of reasonable gun owners in the gun control debate. I’m annoyed that it’s even a debate to begin with. Gun control just seems like common sense to me and those feelings were obviously shared by a woman carrying a sign that said “Pass common sense gun control laws”. Another sign that sums up my feelings well said “Sensible gun laws! Save lives. Don’t violate the second amendment. Worth the “hassle”. Arrrrgh.”
As the speaker portion of the march drew to a close we were reminded that we shouldn’t just go home, feel good that we participated in a march and then do nothing else. We need to take other actions as well, such as writing to our representatives and voting in upcoming elections. About a month before the march I wrote a letter to one of my representatives about the gun problem and a few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised to get a response, outlining the steps he was taking to address it.
“Do you want to visit your brother? He’s here” my father said as we left the march. At first I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I realized we were walking by the cemetery where my stepbrother is buried. My stepbrother did not die of a gunshot wound but he did die tragically and unexpectedly at a young age, as did the kids whose lives were ended by bullets ringing out in the hallways of their schools-in Parkland, in Columbine, in Sandy Hook and in so many other schools throughout our nation. As did those whose lives were ended by guns shot by madmen at a concert in Las Vegas, at a club in Orlando, or at a movie theater in Colorado. As did those who were shot in their church or in their own home by a relative, by a friend, by an enemy or by their own hand. My stepbrother was a victim of another poorly handled and hotly debated epidemic that is sweeping this nation-the opioid epidemic.
Afterwards I discovered that several of my friends also attended the march but I did not see any of them them there, probably because the crowd was so large. Although I could not kid myself in to thinking I had made a big difference in my country’s gun violence problem, I allowed myself to feel good about the fact that I had participated in my local March for Life. It was an energizing, valuable and worthwhile experience. I look forward to my next march.